First and foremost, I’d like to express my appreciation to Maria Grazia for so graciously inviting me to post as a guest on her fabulous Web site!
My life in Austen began at age thirteen. Someone gave me a one-volume collection of all six novels, and in an idle moment, I started to read. I kept going, and going, till I had read all thousand-plus pages. Then I went back to page 1 and started again. Five times before I could be torn away to read anything else.
Like so many Janeites, I’ve often thought about why her work so obsessed me, and I think I have an answer, at least for myself. At that point in my life, I spent night after night attempting to construct a viable plan for how I could survive after running away from my guardian. As it turned out, I never did run away, because I never came up with a plan that seemed realistic. For me, Jane Austen was never about the romance (though that part is a lot of fun!)—her books have always been about how a young woman, finding herself in a world in which she is completely powerless, crafts a future that offers her security without loss of integrity. It’s about how you find that one place where you belong.
I escalated to channeling Jane Austen (so to speak) in college in the 1970s, long before such an activity had become the popular lifestyle that it is today. For my undergraduate thesis I tried to write a completion of her fragment The Watsons, but was dissuaded by my department and settled for writing a study of it instead. A little later, I was given the opportunity to create a dictionary of Jane Austen’s life and works, which was published as part of The Jane Austen Companion in 1986.
Life ensued, but Jane Austen remained ever-present in the back of my mind. Confronted with life’s absurdities, I would always find amusement in describing them in her words. From there, it was a short step to imagining her miraculously transported into the modern world, sitting by my side as we laughed at the folly and eccentricities we encountered. What would Jane Austen say?
And then, one day, there she was, sitting in the passenger seat of my car looking a bit ruffled and not entirely pleased. Once I had overcome my astonishment, I collected my wits sufficiently to explain the basics of modern life to her. We quickly came to an understanding, whereby I would cope with the mundanities of everyday life—serve as a substitute Cassandra, if you will—leaving her free to write in her own inimitable style about everything she observed. The result of this collaboration is the forthcoming novel An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl, By a Lady, in which our anonymous authoress rediscovers the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy in the Santa Ynez Valley of California in the year 1999. Readers will find that despite the disorientation she suffered upon being whisked away from Chawton into America on the eve of the twenty-first century, the redoubtable Jane was nevertheless fully up to the task of skewering and celebrating modern life—not to mention helping her characters to find true love. . . .